Weekly Poll – Disability Employment Gap
Each week Disability Equality Scotland sends out a poll question to our members on a topical issue and for the week beginning 30 January 2023, we asked our members about the Disability Employment Gap. Any identifying information within respondents’ comments has been removed. Please note that this is a snapshot of the views of our membership and does not reflect the policy stance of Disability Equality Scotland. If you plan to reference the findings featured in this report, please contact us in advance so that we are aware of this.
Question: Do you think progress has been made to reduce and remove barriers faced by disabled people in accessing employment in Scotland?
- Yes- 25% (13 respondents)
- No- 75% (40 respondents)
In our second question we asked what barriers disabled people face when accessing employment and what measures could be taken to support disabled people into employment. We have provided verbatim comments where appropriate to illustrate strength of feeling or personal experience.
Attitudes and discrimination-
The key aspect identified as preventing disabled people from employment are prejudicial attitudes and resulting discrimination from employers and other employees. There is a general ignorance around disabilities, how they vary, and the differing challenges they can present, especially for invisible disabilities, neurodivergence, and mental health conditions. Respondents found there are also stereotypes of disabled people as unproductive, unreliable, burdensome etc., that create hiring biases against disabled people. Disabled people may be viewed as getting paid the same to do less, being employed only out of legal requirement, and as taking jobs from ‘capable’ non-disabled people.
‘The biggest barrier for disabled people is not physical barriers but potential employer’s negative perception of disabilities. There is a lack of knowledge and understanding of disabilities within the workplace… there is still a lot of discrimination and prejudices regarding individuals with disabilities and working’.
‘Lot of employers are NOT motivated to employ disabled people as they don’t want additional considerations and responsibilities due to the attitude that disabled people are not reliable members of the work force’.
The negative perception of disabled people and resulting workplace experiences are a result of the medical model of disability focusing on ‘what is wrong’ with a disabled person. This has a detrimental impact on the confidence of disabled people when accessing work, feeling defined only by disability rather than abilities. Respondents found we needed to move towards a social model of disability, recognising people are disabled by barriers in society, not impairments or differences. Through this we could better address employment barriers and create attitudinal change, starting to understand and value what disabled people can offer. Disabled people have a unique perspective that could be massively beneficial to employers, but this is currently overshadowed by negative societal image.
‘It is difficult to express your positive qualities when employers see your disability before they see you’.
‘Accept that disabled people have things to offer that employers benefit from e.g., our lived experience … Value disabled candidates by not asking them to fit into a box.’
‘There is a complete lack of understanding by non-disabled people about the difference between different disabilities and the needs and talents of the people with disabilities’.
When in work many respondents found they could not access workplace life equally, feeling distanced from colleagues and excluded from social aspects of the workplace. Due to this, employment can feel tokenistic for disabled people rather than being based on their skillset. Respondents also found incidents of ableism within the workplace were overlooked by employers and employees, leading them to feel unprotected and unsafe. This prejudice within hiring and the workplace can be worsened when disabled people have intersectional identities impacting their employment experience, such as gender, race, class, nationality etc. Government measures will not be effective until we address societal biases against disabled people that influence the hiring process and workplace experience. Without this, employers will still be resistant to hiring disabled people, regardless of skill level. Disabled people will also still find workplaces to be hostile environments, therefore pushing them out of the workforce.
Inaccessibility and lack of adjustment-
Disabled people are often excluded from the workforce due to set ideas around work, inaccessibility, and resistance around changing these. Disabled people are often unable to access employment if employers insist on sticking to a rigid model of work, such as in-person work, set hours, no disability leave, set in-work practices etc. Employers need a more people-centric approach that cares for individual needs to improve accessibility rather centring on productivity, capability, and assimilation into the system.
‘There is not always willingness to allow you to work from home where possible if health and or disability affects being able to be in a traditional work environment or space.’
Inaccessibility was also recognised as pushing disabled people out of employment, such as physical inaccessibility and non-inclusive communication. Respondents found it is challenging to find workplaces that are fully accessible and understanding of access issues. Employers are often unable to appropriately accommodate disabled people due to ignorance around disabilities, their impact, and best ways to support disabled people. Everyday accessibility issues, such as the inaccessibility of public transport for commuting, can also push disabled people out of the workforce.
‘I think transport is an issue for disabled people to get to a job and home. I feel employers don’t take enough notice of disabled people… employers need to make more adjustments and offer the same pay level as an able-bodied employee’.
However, respondents identified that workplace inaccessibility was often used as an excuse to exclude disabled people because making adjustments are seen as costly and difficult. It may be easier for an employer to not hire a disabled person than it is to deal with accommodating a disabled employee. When disabled people are employed it can therefore be incredibly challenging for them to get and retain reasonable adjustments in their workplace. Adjustments should also be seen as continual, not a one-off task at the start of employment, as new and unexpected accessibility issues may arise.
‘Physical limitations of buildings and cost of adjustments are often used as justification not to employ disabled people. Used as a convenient excuse to hide rampant underlying discrimination’.
‘Disabled people are still being outcast by employers who don’t wish to employ them as it costs money converting the workplace to accommodate them’.
‘I’m a disabled adult who acquired a disability and I’m a lifelong trade union rep, so have good knowledge about employment rights. Despite that, I have had a real battle to get reasonable adjustments in place’.
Lack of opportunities-
Another issue is a lack of opportunities available for disabled people in terms of education and employment but also career retention and progression. Disabled people may struggle to access the same extracurricular and/or educational opportunities as non-disabled people within both the school and higher education systems. This in turn means disabled people cannot equally access employment due to insufficient references and perceived lack of skills/experience, especially within specialist career paths such as law, healthcare, politics etc.
Respondents identified disabled people are also often shut out of career development opportunities, being under-represented in senior positions and leadership roles. Employment schemes for disabled people usually do not go beyond apprenticeship and internship level or include roles that won’t develop into permanent and/or senior roles. Disabled people are therefore often limited to entry-level positions that do not maximise their potential rather than being supported into mid-level, senior, or specialist positions.
‘I’m lucky in that I have a good job, but I am still shut out from a lot of opportunities … there needs to be real consideration of fostering the pipeline of disabled talent, as retention and progression rates tend to be poor and so we are less represented in more senior positions.’
In comparison to non-disabled people, respondents also found disabled people need to be over-qualified to be considered for a role. There is therefore not only an employment gap but a wage gap and a potential-fulfilment gap where disabled people, when employed, are limited to low-paid entry-level positions. Additionally, it is difficult to maintain employment if a person becomes disabled whilst employed as employers are not always willing to provide opportunities after changes in disability status.
Access to support and awareness-
Respondents reported it was challenging to access support from employment schemes, local councils, charities, DWP etc., and there are significant wait-times when accessing support. Whilst there is support available, many disabled people are unaware of this or find the process of accessing this challenging. They therefore may feel alone and unclear about how to access work and reasonable adjustments. This is also due to uncertainty around legal rights for disabled people. This results in disabled people feeling unprotected to speak up about employment discrimination and/or to disclose their disability status due to fear of repercussions.
‘Access to work is over a year behind, with some cases, so by the time people pass probation they don’t have the equipment they need and fall out of work’.
‘Workers are unsure of indicating that they have a disability as they fear they will lose their job, be demoted or not considered for promotion’.
Another issue is the lack of out-of-work support for disabled people which intensifies anxiety around finding employment. It can be extremely challenging to access disability benefits therefore making this process easier would alleviate stress and allow disabled people time to find suitable employment.
Respondents had many ideas of how to reduce barriers to employment for disabled people:
- It is important for the Scottish government to keep funding disability employment schemes such as Inclusion Scotland’s ‘We Can Work’ programme. However, these schemes need to be developed further to include positions beyond internships, apprenticeships, and entry level positions to not limit disabled people’s development. It would also be useful to provide more skill-building schemes, such as on digital literacy, to help fill educational gaps for many disabled people.
- There needs to be mandatory training for employers and staff around disability, ableism, and how to support disabled people. They need to be made more aware of how the government can support them, what their legal imperatives are, and the consequences in place for if they breach these. The Scottish government needs to make sure that changes are implemented in practice not just theory by holding employers accountable.
- Accessing support services, such as Access to Work, needs to be made easier, awareness of these services needs to be increased and more support needs to be available throughout the application process for support services and employment.